Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gorillapod Focus - Evaluation

So I just bought a cute Gorillapod "Focus" model -- their so-called heavy-duty version capable of handling 11 lbs. And I wanted to see if this might be a good traveling companion for my D200.

Gorillapod Focus and Nikon D200

Overall, the quality of the build is excellent -- no cheap manufacturing going on here. The Gorillapod is comprised of three "legs", each of which articulates independently. These can be formed into nearly any shape. As such, one can "wrap" the Gorillapod around a branch, signpost, or handrail -- something few other products can do (the Manfrotto Super Clamp is a distant competitor that comes to mind). There is no doubt that this is one unique accessory that has many uses for the professional photographer. And as a clamp, I can highly recommend it for its imminent utility. However, as a tripod replacement I was concerned and needed to do some tests to see how this item performed in the real-world.

Using a Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 together with my D200 and remote cable as a test bed I wanted to see if the Gorillapod's flexible ball connectors would handle the mirror vibrations (or not). To validate things, I ran the same tests with MLU on for comparison. Here are my results:


1/100 - good
1/80 - good
1/60 - good
1/50 - good
1/40 - bad
1/30 - bad***
1/25 - bad

1/20 - very bad
1/15 - very bad
1/13 - very bad
1/10 - very bad
1/8 - very bad

1/6 - unreadable
1/5 - very bad
1/4 - very bad
1/3 - very bad

1/2.5 - bad
1/2 - good
0.6" - good
0/8" - good
1.0" - good
1.3" - good
1.6" - good
2.0" - good
2.5" - good
3.0" - good
4.0" - good

Gorillapod Focus, no-MLU, 1/3 of a second exposureGorillapod Focus, no-MLU, 1/3 of a second exposure

1/100 MLU - excellent
1/80 MLU - excellent
1/60 MLU - excellent
1/50 MLU - excellent
1/40 MLU - excellent
1/30 MLU - excellent
1/25 MLU - excellent
1/20 MLU - excellent
1/15 MLU - excellent
1/13 MLU - excellent
1/10 MLU - excellent
1/8 MLU - excellent
1/6 MLU - excellent
1/5 MLU - excellent
1/4 MLU - excellent
1/3 MLU - excellent
1/2.5 MLU - excellent
1/2 MLU - excellent
0.6" MLU - excellent
0/8" MLU - excellent
1.0" MLU - excellent
1.3" MLU - excellent
1.6" MLU - excellent
2.0" MLU - excellent
2.5" MLU - excellent
3.0" MLU - excellent
4.0" MLU - excellent

Gorillapod Focus, no-MLU, 1/3 of a second exposureGorillapod Focus, MLU, 1/3 of a second exposure

As you can see, the Gorillapod Focus clearly transmits the camera's mirror vibration from 1/40 sec to nearly 1/2 second. Keep in mind that these tests were using a remote release cable -- should you use your finger to click the trigger, one should expect even worse results! Not surprisingly, I got uniformly excellent results with MLU with all speeds. (in fact, noticibly better than ANY of the non-MLU examples). Presumably, wrapping the Gorillapod around a branch rather than using it in "tripod mode" might reduce the vibrations significantly as it would eliminate the "legs" which are likely the primary culprit in regards to the occilation we seem to be witnessing here. Unfortunately, I didn't test this so you're just going to have to extrapolate for yourself.

What does this mean to you?
If you are shooting a long lens together with the Gorillapod Focus model from 1/40 - 1/2 second, you are strongly advised to always use MLU. In fact, to be safe, I would advise MLU at all speeds with the Gorillapod since it seems to be one of those tripods that "occillates" at the slightest vibration. But then again, you already knew to always use MLU, didn't you? ;)

Does this mean I am going to return mine?
Not at all -- I feel the Gorillapod is a great travel tripod that fits neatly into my small laptop backpack (unlike any other midi-tripod which I would need to pack separately) and I will just have to adjust how I shoot when I'm traveling light. YMMV.

Recommended for:
- mirrorless DSLRs (e.g. Panasonic G1)
- Rangefinders (e.g. Mamiya 7 II)
- lightweight medium format cameras with mirror lock up enabled
- lightweight 4x5 cameras on windless days (e.g. Gaoersi 4x5, Toyo CF, etc)
- DSLRs and SLRs with mirror lock up enabled


*** a surprise here: I accidentally shot a continuous series of images at 1/30th (no MLU) and the subsequent images were signifantly WORSE than the first image taken at 1/30. Vibrations seem to amplify with this device.

P.S. lest you think I'm being unfair here, I re-ran the test using a Gitzo carbon-fibre tripod and Arca-Swiss B1 ballhead in non-MLU mode. Here are the (not surprising) results using pro equipment and technique:

TEST #3: GITZO + ARCA-SWISS B1 + D200 + REMOTE + 180MM (no-MLU)
1/100 Gitzo - excellent
1/80 Gitzo - excellent
1/60 Gitzo - excellent
1/50 Gitzo - excellent
1/40 Gitzo - excellent
1/30 Gitzo - good
1/25 Gitzo - good
1/20 Gitzo - good
1/15 Gitzo - good
1/13 Gitzo - excellent
1/10 Gitzo - excellent
1/8 Gitzo - excellent
1/6 Gitzo - excellent
1/5 Gitzo - excellent
1/4 Gitzo - excellent
1/3 Gitzo - excellent
1/2.5 Gitzo - excellent
1/2 Gitzo - excellent
0.6" Gitzo - excellent
0/8" Gitzo - excellent
1.0" Gitzo - excellent
1.3" Gitzo - excellent
1.6" Gitzo - excellent
2.0" Gitzo - excellent
2.5" Gitzo - excellent
3.0" Gitzo - excellent
4.0" Gitzo - excellent

MAGNAchrom: End of Article


Anonymous said...

welcome back Mr. Sullivan,your magnachrom magazine was one of the best photo magazines i had the pleasure of reading,not to mention the fact that it was free
is the gorrilapod stable enough to be put around a branch or something symilar with 3 kilos of slr&lens attached to it?

J Michael Sullivan said...

Yes, it would indeed be VERY good used around a branch, signpost, or a handrail. In fact, I feel that its strength lies in its ability to attach to nearly anything rather than its use as a tripod.

As for capability: I have it holding my RB67!!!

P.S. I feel this would be an ideal traveling companion to the Mamiya 7

coffeekev said...

Nice review much appreciated, thinking exactly about buying one to use with a mamiya 7, just wondering what is that tripod head you got attached to the gorillapod in the photo??

Still need a head solution, preferably arca swiss QR compatible.


J Michael Sullivan said...

What you see int he photo is not a head, it is simply a lightweight rotator. For a head I can highly recommend the Acratech line -- they are the lightest weight/strongest combination I have evaluated yet.


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